Signo Uddenberg and his wife Alejandra are the co-owners of SOMOS, a contemporary Ecuadorian restaurant in Quito, Ecuador. Since they moved from San Francisco to Ecuador in 2018 to open SOMOS, they have reached the top of TripAdvisor’s top 1,500 restaurants list, have been featured in several magazines including National Geographic and wrote a book, SOMOS: Year One.
Give us some background on yourself; family life, time at Bellarmine, further education, etc.
“I live in Quito, Ecuador with my wife, Alejandra, and our 16-month-old son, Aksel. Before arriving in Ecuador, I was working in San Francisco, CA, for a Design-Strategy firm called MKThink, where I led the research, development and innovation work for the past 10 years and continue to do so remotely. In 2014 I met Alejandra and we were married a year later. She ran pop-up dinner events across San Francisco for the likes of Facebook, Google, you name it, until 2018, when we decided to leave San Francisco and travel for a year. We visited 12 countries over the course of 10-months before settling in Quito to start our restaurant project. “
At Bellarmine I played three sports, basketball, baseball and football, the latter two of which I played through my senior year. Upon graduating I went to school at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA where I spent two years there and one year studying abroad in Florence, Italy. After that I transferred to the University of Southern California to complete my 3/2 degree program in Natural Science and Civil Engineering. From there I went to work immediately in Madrid, Spain, for the global infrastructure developer, Cintra. I left that work a year later to complete a graduate degree in Sustainable Design and Construction at Stanford University. At Stanford I met Mark Miller, the CEO of MKThink, the consulting firm I’ve been working at now since graduating.
I’ve also spent time teaching and consulting in Asia through the Center for Asia Leadership, a non-profit leadership development organization based in Malaysia. Through them I’ve given talks on the future of innovation, hospitality, design-thinking and sustainability in China, Malaysia and Indonesia. Similarly I’ve been teaching a class in Culinary Innovation with my wife Alejandra at the University of San Francisco - Quito.”
How did Bellarmine prepare you for your life and career?
“Bellarmine as a whole was a great place to be educated and prepared for a life in the bigger world. There were so many students from across different cities that I think it was a good melting pot of personalities, demographics, etc. to learn from. It’s only recently that I’ve realized two of the more important experiences I had at Bellarmine: my AP FST class and my elective engineering class. In the FST class, I had a professor who was committed to making sure that everyone really learned the material. If you performed poorly on a test, you could keep coming back to retake it until you got the grade you wanted. It was up to you how much effort you wanted to put in. At the time, I was annoyed by the style of the class. Later, I realized it was one of the best classes I ever took. Then there was the elective engineering class where each class we were given a new challenge with limited time: design the longest newspaper tower that could be attached to the wall without falling; design a paper cushion for dropping eggs out of a second-floor building and so on. It’s probably the most practical class I ever took and one of the few I can see the direct translation into my current work.”
What inspired you to open SOMOS with your wife, Alejandra?
“Alejandra spent 10 years studying and working in France before we met in San Francisco. She studied at one of, if not the best, culinary school in the world, Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon, before working at two 3-star Michelin restaurants. Graduating with both a degree in Restaurant Management as well as Culinary Arts, she continued working in restaurants around France before moving to the US. We met shortly after she arrived in San Francisco, and for four years I watched her become one of the best “pop-up” chefs in the city, even touring the country as a featured chef for DinnerLab (a pop-up dinner event platform that closed its doors in 2018). Then in 2017 she told me that she wanted to return to Ecuador to open her own restaurant that could eventually be taken world-wide. It didn’t take much convincing: I love to eat ;) And I love experience design. So off we went… “
What advice do you have for other Alumni looking to get into the restaurant industry or follow their dreams in another way?
“I think the key is experimentation, regardless of industry or path. We were lucky to get to do “pop-ups” (aka small experiments) for years in SF before moving to Ecuador to open our own restaurant, so we knew that we were starting with a strong gastronomic platform. Then in Ecuador the cost of prototyping the concept, the space, the service, the team… it was so much less than if we tried to open in SF. So we’ve been able to make all the mistakes with minimal consequence, learn from them, and improve…But it’s taken a lot of trial-and-error to get there; and if you can see that as part of the “fun” in the process, then you’ll be just fine.”
To learn about SOMOS and plan your trip, visit www.somos.rest
. Or learn more from afar via their book, SOMOS: Year One, available on Amazon.